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Woodcarver's Voodoo

Really? There's such a thing?

Well. Sort of ...

In last month's blog (December 2023) I talked about 2 important things that make for confidence in carving, in removing wood quickly and efficiently. The first was the ability to visualise the form beneath the tool.

So, you'll have done your preparation: research, drawings, photographs, 3D models - whatever you need - and now you turn to the wood.

And here's what you do:

1. Put down your tools, stand in front of your workpiece and take a deep breath

2. Lift your hands and place the over the block of wood; close but not touching

3. Now move your hands over the wood as you imagine your hands, your fingers, lying on the surface of your finished carving. Really try to feel that form with your hands. 

4. As you move your hands about, feeling and visualising with your hands, talk to yourself. So: 'The nose will be here,' or 'The stalk runs over there and around here,' or 'This bit goes into the wood; this bit is on the surface,' and so on.

5. Take as long as you like; keep feeling your imaginary carving beneath your fingers.  And don't be surprised to find your hands tingling as you do it.

It's like your hands and brain are physically practising for what they are about to do, and before long you know what you are about to do: you can 'see' it.

Try it! 

It's amazingly helpful any time in the project when you are unsure where to go.

Yohouree Mask, Ivory Coast date unknown

Why is it called Carvers Voodoo?

It goes back to when I was teaching at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship, Maine, USA, and had the whole carving class weaving their hands over their blocks of wood and muttering to themselves.

With mouths open, woodworkers taking a beginners class in an adjacent room watched us though the  window and later asked what we were doing.

I couldn't stop myself extolling the virtues of woodcarving and how 'ordinary' woodworking misses out on the dark arts we carvers can invoke with...  'Carvers Voodoo'. 

Thus the myth was born.

Try it and see!

Kpele Kpele: character from a popular masquerade among the Baule people of Ivory Coast.


  • Main: Kifwebe Mask, Congolese, late 19th c.
  • Middle: Detail - Yohoure╠ü Mask, Ivory Coast, date unknown
  • Lowest: Detail - Kpele Kpele Mask, Baule, Ivory Coast, date unknown.


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